Economist 3/26/15

  1. SAUDI Arabia was only going to tolerate the advance of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen for so long. Early on the morning of March 26th the kingdom said it had launched a military operation to push back the Houthis and reinstate the “legitimate government” of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.They also targeted military bases controlled by loyalists of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president. He was ousted in 2011 and subsequently has been backing the Houthis as they have taken over swathes of the desperately poor country of 24m. In 2013 the Houthis burst out of their stronghold in northern Yemen and moved south to Sana’a, eventually seizing it in September last year. The Houthis, a religious revivalist group turned militia, are backed by Iran, a Shia power, with which Saudi Arabia, a Sunni bulwark, competes for regional hegemony. For the Houthis, the Saudi-led operation is a public-relations coup. They have long accused Mr Hadi of working for the interests of foreign powers. Yemen is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda’s deadliest branch, and Islamic State (IS).
  2. IN 2014 asylum applications to rich countries reached their highest level for over 20 years, according to data from the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency. Around 866,000 applications were lodged, a 45% increase on the previous year. Two-thirds of those were in the European Union.Southern Europe saw a particularly sharp rise, with applications to Italy doubling to 157,000, as more refugees risked crossing the Mediterranean. The last time asylum-seeker applications in the rich world reached this level was the start of the Bosnia Herzegovina conflict in 1992. The causes are unsurprising. Jihadists in Syria and Iraq have displaced millions (but only a small share of those fleeing get as far as Europe). Human-rights abuses in Eritrea sends a streams of refugees through Sudan to Libya and then across the sea to Europe. Disillusion and economic stagnation in the Balkans have sent thousands north.Those who manage to lodge applications in rich countries are the fortunate minority. In 2013 over 50m people were involuntarily displaced worldwide, of which 17m were refugees and only 1.2m asylum seekers.
  3. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that among people who have tried illicit drugs, about two-thirds began with marijuana. Hardly anyone jumps straight in at the deep end: less than 1% of drug users reported that their first-ever outing was with heroin or cocaine.The other argument is social: smoking marijuana, a banned substance, gets youngsters in with the wrong crowd, making them more likely to flout other laws. Breaking one taboo makes it easier to break another.he first argument is in Mr Christie’s favour. Exposing more people to marijuana, as legalisation probably would, could prime more brains to enjoy other substances.But the second argument rather undermines Mr Christie’s position. To the extent that marijuana acts as a social gateway to other drugs, legalisation slams that gateway shut. In Colorado and Washington—and, soon, Alaska and Oregon—marijuana is sold not by drug pushers but by heavily regulated dispensaries, which sell only one drug.If marijuana were a gateway to harder drugs, one might expect those drugs to become more popular too. Yet during the same period, consumption of most other substances actually fell. The number of monthly cocaine users dipped from 2.1m to 1.7m.
  4. HUMANS can digest lactose, the main carbohydrate in milk, only with the help of an enzyme called lactase. But two-thirds of people stop producing it after they have been weaned. The lucky third—those with “lactase persistence”—continue to produce it into adulthood.Pre-colonial countries in western Europe tended to have the highest rates of lactase persistence.A one-standard-deviation increase in the incidence of lactase persistence, in turn, was associated with a 40% rise in population density. People who could digest milk, the theory goes, used resources more efficiently than those who couldn’t.
  5. In Poland 15% of respondents admitted to paying a bribe in the past year; in nine out of ten cases it was for health care. Some Polish hospitals allow women to deliver by Caesarean section on demand, for an off-the-books fee of up to 1,000 zlotys ($266). One survey found that Poles consider health care the second-most corrupt area of public life after politics. Even in Estonia, where the e-health system is widely praised as a model of transparency, a hospital director lost his job in 2011 for demanding 4,000 kroons ($362) and a bottle of cognac from an elderly patient to remain in hospital.Doctors in much of central and eastern Europe argue that abysmal wages in official health-care systems leave them no choice but to demand payments on the side.In Romania, resident doctors at public hospitals earn just €200 ($220) per month, while specialists earn €500. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 7,000 Romanian doctors—30% of the doctors in the country—emigrated between 2011 and 2013, according to the head of the country’s college of physicians. More than 2,000 of them now work for Britain’s National Health Service.
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